Choline has recently gained popularity as the essential nutrients with many health-benefiting attributes. It neither falls under the category of vitamin or mineral.
Choline is naturally present in some foods and also consumed as a dietary supplement. This, both water and fat-soluble compounds are known to play a variety of roles in human metabolism. Choline was regarded as an essential nutrient by the Institute of Medicine as it is needed for the synthesis of the neurotransmitter, signalling of the cell membrane and transport of lipids.
Water-soluble choline metabolism and absorption takes place in the liver whereas fat-soluble form is converted to chylomicron and further assimilated via lymphatic circulation.
We need choline to make acetylcholine which is a critical neurotransmitter required for healthy brain functioning. It is also used to synthesise phosphatidylcholine, sphingomyelin and choline plasmalogen which are key constituents of cell membranes.
Choline is also considered indispensable for pregnant women to prevent brain disorders and neural tube defects in the growing foetus. This requirement is independent of adequate folic acid intake. We need to maintain adequate choline intake in the diet as it is associated with a reduced risk of heart diseases. This is because choline aids in the conversion of homocysteine to methionine. Elevated levels of homocysteine increase the risk of cardiovascular disorders and stroke.
Choline plays a major role in improving brain and heart functioning as it is utilised to produce acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter results in vasodilation improving heart rate and cardiac muscle contraction. In addition, it also reduces the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It has been observed that people with Alzheimer’s disease have low levels of acetylcholine. Therefore, we need choline to boost memory and cognitive functioning. Due to this reason, choline is popularly used as a special ingredient in various health and sports drinks as it favours athletes and active people by alleviating stress, assisting in psychological recovery and boosting athletic performance.
Dietary intake of choline also suppresses levels of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein, tumour necrosis factor and interleukin-6. This proves favourable for keeping heart, brain disorders at bay along with a reduced likelihood of cancer, arthritis and liver disease.
Choline can be easily included in the diet through sources like eggs, wheat germ, wheatgrass, soybean, salmon, quinoa, cauliflower, peas and organ meat like liver. Human milk is also considered a good source of choline for infants.
There is no recommended dietary allowance for choline by ICMR. But the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine states that adequate intake of choline by adults should be 400 mg per day which may increase to 480 and 520 mg during pregnancy and lactation, respectively.
Excess intake of choline is not recommended as some studies have reported the side effect as hypotension or low blood pressure when the intake was as high as 10 grams per day.
To sum up, it is clearly evident that choline is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in optimal health and keeps our heart, brain, liver and other organs healthy. It is requisite to consume a choline-rich diet to enjoy the health benefits and prevent deficiency.
- Meyer, K. A., & Shea, J. W. (2017). Dietary Choline and Betaine and Risk of CVD: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies. Nutrients, 9(7), 711. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9070711
- Zeisel, S. H., & da Costa, K. A. (2009). Choline: an essential nutrient for public health. Nutrition reviews, 67(11), 615–623. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00246.x
- Wiedeman, A. M., Barr, S. I., Green, T. J., Xu, Z., Innis, S. M., & Kitts, D. D. (2018). Dietary Choline Intake: Current State of Knowledge Across the Life Cycle. Nutrients, 10(10), 1513. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10101513